A Person & A Heart

Jon Troast

Independent release, 2008


REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


For a year that started off ho-hum, 2008 sure has made up for lost ground in the past couple of months, especially on the indie front.  First Mike Zito, then Last Charge Of The Light Horse and now previous Indie Of The Year runner-up Jon Troast returns with another album of superb singer-songwriter material.

It’s hard to start talking about Troast’s new disc A Person & A Heart without referencing the blog he’s been keeping on his MySpace page while performing a series of house concerts around the country.  His warm, low-key, yet subtly observant entries help you understand his musical personality and why house concerts would suit him well.  His songs are friendly and warm and revealingly wise and he comes across like the charming cousin you’d gladly invite to stay over in your guest room or on your couch, just as long he brings his guitar.

Musically, Troast sounds like the long-lost love child of Lyle Lovett and Jack Johnson, a shaggy acoustic troubadour with a keen wit, a soulful voice and an endearing earnestness about him.  A Person & A Heart features a full band for the most part -- complete with twin saxophones -- but the songs never lose their intimacy and immediacy, and Troast’s throaty, low-key delivery never loses its inviting vulnerability.

The opening title track is as pop as anything he’s ever done, with bells and piano and a supple electric guitar line and a big chorus supplementing his effortless rhymes.  The song itself, though, feels like an M.C. Escher painting, circular in its portrayal of the difficulty of expressing three-dimensional emotions and relationships in the form of two-dimensional art.  The fact that he chooses drawing rather than songwriting as the art he writes about is what makes the whole metaphor work: my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

“’Cause the hardest part
is a person and a heart
That’s the only thing
I could never draw
‘Cause I don’t know where someone starts, where they end
And I can’t draw lines that could hold them in” 

The next two cuts are sweet-swinging home runs as well, funked-up folk tunes that charm with their silky grooves while widening your smile with their insights.  “What We Become” is a smart, observant bit about how we’re all mothers and fathers and daughters and sons, living inside a pattern that both repeats and continually evolves; “Heaven’s Got The Time” is a loose, giddy, finger-snapping “I’m in love” tune that could melt the heart of the coldest cynic.

From there you get several more flavors of Troast wonderfulness.  There’s gospel-tinged pop (“Prayer For Better Days’), wry observational folk-funk (“Think I’m In Love,” “We’d Be Good For Us”), and a deeply affectionate portrait of his hometown (“Lake Geneva”; “All the local boys / Wait for the girls from Illinois”).

Not everything here is light and happy, however.  “For The Longest Time” paints in darker tones, with an almost Dave Matthews arrangement of densely layered acoustic/electric interplay.  The country blues “A Break-Up Song” has bright instrumentation, but the lyrics are as close as Troast ever gets to brutal: “Instead of saying we’re just friends / Let’s tear it open and call it what is / It’s a knife right through my rib cage / It’s a hammer to my head.” 

Closing things out are a pair of mostly acoustic, mostly melancholy songs that showcase Troast’s own very expressive singing and playing.  “Loneliest Girl” presents a richly detailed story-song and then “With A Smile Like That” provides a sunnier finish with a tune about that special someone who becomes “my favorite place to go / You always feel like home.”

It’s a fitting finish to A Person & A Heart, an album that fulfills every promise made by Second Story; it’s just as sweet and sincere and finely-crafted, yet more richly textured and musically diverse.  Rather than continuing to wax rhapsodic here, though, I’ll endeavor to keep this as direct as a Troast punchline: this is a terrific album; you should really buy it.

Rating: A

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